Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Dec 1952

Vol. 41 No. 2

Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices (Amendment) Bill, 1952—Second and Subsequent Stages.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The principal purpose of this Bill will be found in Section 3, which is designed to remove doubts in regard to the application of Part IV of the Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act of 1938 and to extend its scope in order that certain former Ministers of the First Dáil Eireann, or their widows, may be eligible to receive pensions. As well as this, Section 4 of the Bill, as amended in the Committee Stage in the Dáil, will have the effect of rendering eligible for pension widows of persons who have held, during any period since 1919, ministerial or secretarial office for a period of less than three years and who have hitherto for this reason been ineligble for widows' pensions under the terms of the Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Acts.

The Act of 1938 was enacted following the report, dated 24th November, 1937, of a committee of inquiry into ministerial and other salaries which had been appointed in 1937. This committee recommended, inter alia, that Ministers of State should be made eligible to receive pensions and that service as Minister prior to 6th December, 1922, whether under Dáil Eireann or under the Provisional Government, should be reckonable for pension purposes.

When the Act was passed and its application came to be considered with a view to determining eligibility for pensions, a doubt arose as to whether the office of Director under the First Dáil could be a ministerial office only if it was an office as member of the Cabinet or the office of Chairman. There was a provision in Section 18 of the Act for the reference of any questions arising as to the holding of ministerial office before 6th December, 1922, to a committee consisting of the Taoiseach, or some person nominated by him, the Leader of the second Party or some person nominated by him, and the Chairman of Dáil Éireann or some person nominated by him. An application did come before that committee in respect of services as Directors, but no record exists of a report by the committee, and I am making bold to presume that the reason why no report was submitted was because the committee felt quite clearly while it was the spirit and intention of the Act that the office of Director should be covered, the letter of the law, on the other hand, forbade them to make a report to that effect.

None the less, the fact remains that no report exists, and however inconsistent it may be, I, who have had most intimate association with the drafting and submission of the 1938 Act to the Oireachtas, am not satisfied that ineligibility for pension could have been established beyond doubt. That a Director should be eligible for a pension was clearly in the mind of the Government of the day. It was, in fact, mentioned by me in this House that the office of Director, being a ministerial head of a Department under the First Dáil, and existing from 2nd April, 1919, to 26th August, 1921, would be covered by the terms of the Act.

It is clear from the records in my Department why the service of the Director was intended to be covered by the 1938 Act. Dáil Éireann has agreed with the Government that it would be invidious to exclude such service and, accordingly, provision for the removal of the doubts which have existed, and the correction of the really anomalous position hitherto prevailing, is included in Section 3 of this Bill. If the Cabinet of the First Dáil had been constituted on the basis which now exists, whereby all Ministers, members of the Cabinet, receive pensions, this difficulty would not have arisen.

Provision is made in Section 2 to enable any period between the nomination of the person in ministerial office and the ratification of such an office by the Dáil to be regarded as pensionable service. In normal times there would be little or no interval between the nomination of such persons and the submission of their names to the Dáil for ratification, but in the circumstances such as existed from 1919 to 1922, it was not possible to hold a meeting of the First Dáil, and in some cases the Minister was placed in charge of a Department several months before the meeting took place at which ratification of appointment could be sought. During this interval, however, those Ministers were exposed to all the risks associated with their office.

Once again, on the strict interpretation of the legal position and the Article of the Constitution of the First Dáil, these Ministers could not be regarded as having held ministerial office for a pensionable period within the meaning of the Act, and in order to render this service reckonable, Section 2 has been drafted.

The 1938 Act provided that a minimum of three years' service should be required to qualify for pensions in respect of ministerial office, service prior to the Truce of 11th July, 1921, being reckoned in double measure for this purpose. The amending Act of 1949, however, provided that if a Minister died in office, a pension might be awarded to his widow, even if he had not completed three years' service. We think that that principle—and Dáil Éireann has agreed with the Government in this matter—should be further extended, and provision is being made in this Bill to enable a pension to be awarded to the widow of a person who held qualifying office at any period, but who did not die in office, even though such person's service might not have amounted to three years.

I think the justification for this course will be patent to all members of the Seanad. As we know, when a person accepts ministerial office, or as, in some cases, has ministerial office thrust upon him, he has naturally to make a break with his former career. If he is a director of public companies or even of private companies, he has to resign his directorships. If he has been carrying on a business, the probabilities are that his business, lacking his own personal attention and direction, will suffer very severely, and therefore persons who accept ministerial and parliamentary offices are subject to disabilities and disadvantages which very often are visited, as we know from personal experience, upon their wives and children and, after their death, upon their widows. The provision which the Government proposes to make in this Bill is, I think, of the most modest that would be justifiable. We merely make provision to ensure that, when a person who has held a ministerial or parliamentary office dies, his widow will be safeguarded against extreme penury, and that is the justification for the course we are taking under Section 4. I commend the Bill to the Seanad and I should very greatly appreciate it if the Seanad would be good enough to let me have all stages this evening.

This is a reasonable Bill. Its main purpose is to see that certain people who served under the First Dáil, that is, more than 30 years ago, will be deemed to be eligible under the Act of 1938. In the case of the First Dáil, it was not possible, of course, to be as specific or legally correct as we can now be, seeing that we now have an Attorney-General's department, a draftsman's office and a regular meeting-place for the two Houses of the Oireachtas. In 1919, 1920 and 1921, there were no such arrangements. The Dáil itself, as the Minister has pointed out, was not able to meet regularly and neither was the staff able to work in an uninterrupted fashion, and I think that "uninterrupted" is a very mild way to put it. It is therefore unreasonable to insist on the niceties of legal language in applying an Act of the Oireachtas to people of that particular period. The Dáil Government, in effect, was an underground Government, leading what would have been called in recent times a resistance movement.

I was a member of the committee the Minister mentions which was set up after the 1938 Act and on which there was a representative of the Taoiseach. I was the representative of Mr. W.T. Cosgrave, and I remember that we did agree upon certain things and had no difficulty whatever about them, but no further meetings of the committee were summoned and—it shows how these things slip from one's mind—I cannot remember whether we did or did not consider the question of the Directors; but whether we did or not, I am in entire agreement with the Minister now that the word "Director" as used in 1919, 1920 and 1921 was equivalent to the word "Minister" and that it should be so ruled. The circumstances were quite unusual. The period was a long time ago, more than 30 years; the people concerned who will benefit are all of advanced years; and the Bill, therefore, is one to which no objections can possibly be taken. So far as I am concerned, I see no objection to giving all stages to the Minister this evening.

I should like to say a word or two in appreciation of the Minister's action in introducing this measure. When we look back at the people who served the country in these difficult times, I feel that it is a question of paying a debt of honour to men who had to take grave risks to keep things going and to safeguard the position so that we now benefit by their activities.

I think I read in the Dáil that a suggestion was made with regard to something in the nature of retrospective payment. The Minister could not agree with that suggestion, but I should like to suggest that if there are any people, and particularly widows, who are in poor circumstances, who, by reason of the delay in giving recognition to them over the years find themselves in a position of extreme penury, some consideration ought to be given to them, in recognition of the services rendered by those who were dear to them and who have now gone. I do not know what people are involved or how many people are involved, but if there are extreme cases of hardship, some provision might be made in the way of an ex gratia payment.

I support this Bill because I know that people who now qualify under it have, for many years, lived in very distressing circumstances by reason of the fact that the previous Bill did not cover their cases. I want to put two queries to the Minister Could he estimate the number of people affected by the Bill and could he give us an indication of what the pensions involved will cost?

I also support the Bill. Those of us who can go back to the period before the establishment of the State, as we know it now, and who knew many of the people involved, as I did, know the extent of the absolutely unselfish service, without any conceivable thought of gain, and without any conceivable thought of gain even if they succeeded, that was given. That is something which younger people nowadays, when so many people are after jobs and looking for this, that and the other, do not realise—the extent of the unselfish spirit which was practically universal at that time.

The only criticism I have of the Bill, if it is a criticism at all is that I have on many occasions felt—I would not mind what Party was in power—that there should be some type of civil list by which persons who are relatives of persons who served during that period and who are in needy circumstances could be dealt with, as Senator Colgan said, on the basis of an honourable debt, without having to bring in a Bill. It is something which we rather lack here. The amount of money involved would be relatively small and we would all have sufficient confidence in each other, in spite of Party differences, to know that a civil list of that kind would be administered wisely and properly. I wish it were possible to bring it in.

As I say, I am positive that the amount of money involved would be small. I am sure the Minister has done everything he can to deal with every case he knows of, but it would not surprise me if, in the next year, some other case turned up in respect of which everyone would agree there was a national obligation but which might not come under the Act.

I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to a case which does not come under the Bill and which, so far as I know, does not come under any other Bill. It is the case of the widow of a man who gave great service to the country in the early part of the century, William O'Brien, who, everyone will agree, gave great service to the country. I understand that his widow is living in poor circumstances in another country. I assume that it could not be done under this Bill, but I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to the desirability of doing something to help that lady in her distress.

I am in entire agreement with the sentiments expressed by the Minister and by the Senators who have spoken on this Bill.

With regard to the point raised by Senator Colgan, this question of trying to make some compensation for the very belated acknowledgment which the widows of some persons will receive under this Bill was raised in the other House, and I gave it my most sympathetic consideration. I gave it my most sympathetic consideration, but I had to come to the conclusion that I would not be justified in violating what is established practice in regard to superannuation Bills, viz., that it is highly undesirable that retrospective effect should be given to them. In one particular case, of course, while it is true that the person did not enjoy the benefits of the 1938 Act, I believe now that, in fact, provision was made not merely by the present Government, but by their predecessors and that employment had been provided for such person. It is one of the principles regulating the grant and payment of ministerial pensions that, where other provision or employment is provided and where moneys are paid out of funds under the control of the Government, the ministerial pension will be abated by a corresponding amount so that, in effect, the person who suffered most perhaps by reason of the framing of the 1938 Act has received what may be described as a compensating benefit through the administrative action of the Government of that day and succeeding Governments since.

With regard to the point made by Senator O'Donnell I cannot say precisely how many people will come under the Act. I do not think they can be more than seven or eight at the most but at any rate the total cost is not likely to exceed more than £2,800.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the suggestion that has been made by Senator Douglas that there is urgent need to establish the principle of a civil list in this country and I think my views on that matter are well known. But if we are going to do it it would have to be done as a non-Party measure and perhaps at the spontaneous wish of all Parties in the House rather than at the instance of the Government. We do know that there have been various suggestions for a civil list made from time to time and it is not an easy matter to determine how the matter was going to be finally resolved. It might be that the best way to tackle the subject would be if some members of the House were to move that a committee to consider this question be set up and speaking for myself I think I could say that such a move would receive the sympathetic consideration of the Government. It would enable us to deal with the case of the lady who has been referred to by Senator O'Callaghan and the case of another lady Mrs. Diarmuid Lynch and there are I am sure a considerable number of names which would occur to us in this connection.

There are many indeed who rendered signal and significant services to the country prior even to 1916 and even until 1930 and who for one reason or another have not been able to secure any recognition within the necessarily narrow limits of Acts of Parliament. Such cases may only be dealt with under the broader and freer way in which a representative committee might administer such funds as would be provided for the purpose.

I would hope that following the mention of the matter here in the Seanad some definite action will be taken to establish that machinery. It is something in which this State is lacking very seriously. Moreover, it is not merely persons who have figured in our public life who should be looked after. There are people who have rendered great service to this nation in the arts and sciences, and so on, who have been equally overlooked, and it is not to our credit that that position should continue to obtain.

Question agreed to.

Agreed, to take the remaining stages to-day.

Sections 1 to 3 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 4 stand part of the Bill."

On Section 4, I would like to ask the Minister is this section entirely retrospective, or is it to apply also in the future?

It is both retrospective and prospective.

If it is prospective it may allow for the criticism in the future that too many Ministers or parliamentary secretaries could be created by a Government for the purposes of providing pensions for their widows. I have no objection to the retrospective provisions, but I fear that that other position might arise if the provisions are prospective.

It is clear that this section is limited in its application in that it deals only with the widows of Ministers and parliamentary secretaries, and therefore no juggling with Ministers or parliamentary secretaries could possibly be regarded as influencing the death of the person so juggled.

I cannot envisage any Government creating a situation such as that suggested by Senator O'Donovan.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 5, 6 and the Title agreed to.
Bill reported without recommendation, received for final consideration and ordered to be returned to the Dáil.